Speak

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2017

By Sophia Emmert, Illustrated by Savannah Ugo

You never truly know what you have, until you try to live without it. Until something you love is taken, you don’t know how fortunate you are. You take everyday things for granted, like listening to the wind swirl around the branches of a giant oak or hearing the night owls call farewell to each other in the mist of the evenings.

Sometimes I want the sounds. Since birth, all I have heard is silence. It makes me sad, not to be able to hear the waves crash against the sand or the strum of talented fingers on a guitar. All I hear is silence. Complete and utter silence.

It has always been my dream to listen. Often I stare out of my window and watch the world, wondering about the sounds. I watch the birds, seeing their mouths open, but hearing nothing. What does their song sound like? I’ve seen the wind skip across the lake, creating hundreds of miniature tidal waves. What does this sound like?

Once I watched a young woman hurrying home from the crowds. In her hands she held a bouquet of flowers, all different shades of color and beautifully bright. She stepped onto the curb and in her hurry dropped a daisy. It fluttered to the ground gently, lost and abandoned. Had anyone heard the flower fall? I will never know.

With the gift of voice comes the great form of verbal communication: talking, singing, shouting. Without it I am left with hands. By age four I had mastered the amazing language of signing. My parents and siblings could talk to me, but few of my friends understood my strange motions.

Speak girl by the window

Often I stare out of my window and watch the world, wondering about the sounds

My name is Naomi. I live a completely normal life, except for the fact that I am deaf. I’ve never been able to hear, I was born this way. I’d gotten used to signing and was happy. Even so, something was missing; a void in my existence that had never been filled.

When we first moved to Minnesota, I was terrified. A new home, a new school—who wouldn’t be a little nervous? Headed to a new state hundreds of miles away, I had left my friends and old city behind. But in the wake of my fear was a sense of thrilling excitement that I didn’t recognize.

*          *          *

The doors of the giant school building opened and closed behind me, letting hundreds of students inside. The aroma of fresh paint and the crisp winter breeze filled my nose as I took in all the sights. There were so many more children here than where I used to go to school, and I could feel my face growing hot as I entered and stared. Watching everyone talking, I tried to smile and seem confident, though in reality, I was terrified. Chin held out, trying to ignore the flapping butterflies in my stomach and avoiding glances, I quickly walked to my first class.

Little did I know that when I entered those doors, my life would change instantly. I had no idea that a hidden talent was deep inside me, for never had I been given a chance like this before. Forcing a smile, I looked at the small sign posted on the classroom door: Room 103, Music.

Taking a deep breath, I entered.

Immediately I fell in love. The room was so bright, with posters of every possible shape and color scattered across the walls in no particular order. Instruments lined the shelves, smooth and clean. Kids laughed and talked to each other as they prepared for the lesson, but patiently and silently, I sat alone.

As I set my bag down, something caught my eye. There, in the very corner, was a grand piano. It was old and dusty, but the black and white keys mesmerized me. I held my breath as another student sat at its bench and pressed the keys. Right then I felt completely alone and desolate, a longing to hear the beautiful music filling me.

The clear morning sunlight flashed through the tinted windows. It felt warm against my arms and face, almost helping me relax. The sunlight had always comforted me, giving me warmth, providing me with a sense of safety.

Finally the teacher arrived. She was a young, beautiful brunette, with a sort of kindness filling her eyes. The students shuffled to take seats and I smiled at her. She grinned back and started to say something to me. I shrugged my shoulders, signing to her that I was deaf. A wave of realization swept over her, and she nodded quickly and continued to unpack.

This action alone surprised me. Usually, my past teachers would smile sadly at me or give me an unspoken apology for my inability to hear their words. It made me wonder why this woman was different, why she hadn’t acted like the others. Immediately I liked her.

Once the class had quieted she began to speak. I studied her lips, trying to understand what she was saying. It seemed like she was taking each student one by one, talking to them for a few minutes, then giving them an instrument to play. Children eagerly stepped up and picked up an instrument, then awkwardly tried to play a few notes. They would all cringe at the noise, and the teacher would laugh, then show them a short tune.

Panic flooded me as I watched her turn and motion for me to step forward. Cautiously I stood up, my face turning a deep, violet red as the children looked at me. I hated attention, preferring the spotlight to be on someone else.

“I am Ms. Germain,” the woman politely smiled and mouthed slowly. “Have you ever played an instrument before?”

I shook my head, trying to ignore the seemingly hundreds of eyes that bore into my skin. The room suddenly felt stiff and uncomfortable, so I steadied myself with the desk.

“Would you like to learn how?”

I shrugged, offering a regretful smile.

What a strange question it was. Wasn’t it clear to her that I was deaf? How could someone like me learn to create a beautiful sound? These kids had no idea how much I wanted to be able to wake up to the birds in the morning or how much I wanted to be able to hear my mother’s voice calling me to dinner. They didn’t know that what I deeply wanted, they possessed.

Again Ms. Germain smiled. She carefully led me to the corner, and I stared, shocked and unsure at what she wanted me to do. Helping me onto the seat, she told me to press a key. I was embarrassed and feeling pretty stupid because of her directions, but still I obeyed. Anger pulsed through my veins as I touched the piano, yet still remaining in a world of silence.

“Here,” Ms. Germain drew my attention away from the piano, carefully mouthing her words. “Take off your sandals, Naomi.”

Now I hesitated. Was she purposely trying to embarrass me? It was an awkward command, but slowly I removed my shoes and set them beside the bench. Then, placing my bare feet on the cool ground, I looked up at her.

Sitting next to me, the teacher began to play, her delicate fingers moving up and down the piano in a jolly, skillful pattern. A tingling sensation began to move up my body from the vibrations the piano created. Was this the music? The sound?

She finished her piece and I stared profoundly as the class erupted in applause. Had she just performed a beautiful piece right in front of me? Had the vibrations somehow let me listen?

Speak playing the piano

For the first time, I had expressed myself with sound

Ms. Germain turned to me, helping me place my hands on the piano. She placed her hands on top of mine, pressing my fingers down so that I could play her song. The vibrations started again and I sat in awe, realizing that I was making them and that this music was being created because of my hands.

Ms. Germain finished the song with a hard, quick staccato chord that shook the room. She then told me to turn around. My eyes filled with joyous tears as I saw that the entire class was clapping.

For the first time, I had expressed myself with sound. It was like a sadness was lifted from deep inside of me, and suddenly replaced with a need to learn; a need to play this incredible instrument. Pride filled my heart, and I stood to walk back to my seat.

*          *          *

Music is a sound, a language, a voice. Without it my world is silent. Now I can show the world that I can create a beautiful masterpiece with my hands and a piano.

Today is my recital. All the children in my class will perform a short piece on an instrument of their choice. I sit completely still in my seat, watching as the students play. My hands are shaking as I look at all the people. I’m nervous, yes, but have to show them what I can do. There is an invisible drive inside of me, craving to tell the world my own story.

There is an endless variety of instruments before our eyes, each with a student to make them speak. The girl before me finishes her piece and the parents politely clap. I am excited to show my talent, but at the same time I’m terrified. I stand to take my spot. Ms. Germain introduces me like all the rest of the children. Except I am different, and have always been.

I sit, making sure Ms. Germain is finished and that the audience is listening, then turn to place my hands. Taking a deep breath, I begin to play, my feet flat on the floor, feeling the vibrations. My feet are used to the strange vibrations by now and they recognize the tune. The vibrations are my key to sound.

I smile as my fingers fly across the keys, watching and making sure that they move in the pattern that I have grown so familiar with. The vibrations stay steady and I am certain that the music sounds lovely. My heart soars along with the music, letting it describe who I am and what I feel, without any words at all.

Finally I finish. I stand slowly and turn to find the parents and teachers on their feet, applauding. Tears come to my eyes as I slowly bow, a huge smile pasted across my face.

When they return to their seats, I come to the center of the room. Ms. Germain already agreed to translate what I desperately wanted to say.

“My name is Naomi,” I explain to the world, using my hands. “I can’t hear the music.”

My throat is dry and coarse, my hands shaking. “Until not long ago, I couldn’t find a way out of the silence. I thank my teacher for giving me this amazing chance.”

Looking out across the room, I see my mother, her face in her hands. She looks up and I see her smile, tears streaming down her cheeks. My father sits next to her, proudly grinning as he nods at me. In that moment, the empty space that I had felt in Minnesota was filled.

“I have always lived, trapped in silence,” Ms. Germain voices my quiet words, “until I found a new way out, and that way is music.”

I pause. Everyone is focused on my hands, staring at me. And for the first time in my life, I’m OK with it.

Music is a sound, a language, a voice. Without it my world is silent.

“This is how I speak,” I sign, finally released from the quiet. “Music is my voice.”

Speak Sophia Emmert

Sophia Emmert, 13
Muscatine, Iowa

Speak Savannah Ugo

Savannah Ugo, 12
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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